Confronting Sacrificial Devotion Worldwide, 2004-2012

Michael Roberts

Within the contemporary (2020) context of a few killings in European cities by Islamic jihadists on a journey to martyrdom at the feet of Allah, I happened to see Stephen Sackur’s grilling of a French politician in one of his “Hard Talk” presentations on Channel Four. I was critical of his narrow focus and my reflections led me on a comparative journey where I indicated that the cry of “Allahu Akbar” indicated a sense of self-fulfilment in this their final journey on earth for the perpetrators of such attacks.[1]


This idea of “self-fulfilment” was a point I had failed to bring into play in my studies of the suicidal attacks mounted by the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). This work had commenced in November 2004 after my visit to Jaffna Peninsula and Kilinochchi led me into engagement with the factors motivating the Tamil personnel who placed their bodies on the line of death in support of their drive for political independence.

The concept I coined then for my work was “sacrificial devotion” a term that remains serviceable now as well and can be extended to the pursuits of ISIS and a number of jihadists in the Middle East, Europe, the Indian region and Sri Lanka over the last decade or so. This was the concept which I deployed around 2005 to attract funds from an Australian academic organisation with the acronym APFRN for a Workshop at Adelaide University that brought a number of international scholars and Aussie students together in November 2005 (??) for discussions focused on suicide killers.[2]

This venture dominated my research work over the next six/seven years in conjunction with studies of Eelam War IV. It resulted in quite a few articles, but from circa 2010 was overtaken by my interest in issues arising from Eelam War IV— whether the IDP camp resettlement process, the debate on the Tamil civilian death-toll during the war or the analyses of the process of war itself.

Standing in 2020, therefore, this has meant the loss of details and approaches that were at my fingertips then in the period 2005-10. Retracing my footsteps, so to speak, has reproduced revelations of old insights as well as pertinent facts that had slipped out of my reckonings. Those few who have visited Thuppahi recently and dipped into my article …… will immediately perceive this result.[3]

So, here, I present serious students of suicidal political actions on the world stage with a listing of my work on the Tamil Tigers and the roots of their sacrificial commitment. This research, I stress, was not narrow in its geographical foundations: seeking broader insights I ventured into other terrains of sacrificial commitment whether as protest or suicidal strike directed at opponents. As a result, I have several books in my personal possession covering the inspirations of the Japanese kamikaze during World War Two and the Islamic “terrorists” worldwide (see the list below).

Clearly, there will be newer work published during the last decade or so which I have not seen. However, just as I have profited TODAY from revisiting two of my old articles, I hold that serious students could benefit from doing so or venturing into some of the writings that I have tabled at the end.


2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

2005 “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

2006 Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite Of Commemoration, Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

2006“The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

2006“Understanding Zealotry and Questions for Post-Orientalism, I” Lines May-August 2006, vol.5, 1 & 2, in

2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30:  857-88.

2007 “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.

2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.

2010 Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.

2010 Self-Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp.  161-201.

2012 “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” in Social Analysis, sp. issue on War Magic ed. by D. S. Farrer

2020  “Tamil Tiger Martyrs: Regenerating Divine Potency,” 8 November 2020,


Roberts and Arthur Saniotis in 2006 introducing several articles on an overarching theme: “Empowering the Body and Noble Death” for Social Analysi, Spring 2006, 50: 7-24, introducing articles by Douglas Farrer, Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, Michael Roberts and Jacob Copeman.



[1] See Roberts —

[2] I cannot recall what APFRN stood for and do not have records pertaining to that gathering. As far as I recall the meeting was in late 2005 (see …………………………..………………………… ……………………….. but it could have been as late as November 2008 (because the terrorist attack on Mumbai occurred during one session where Boria Majumdar featured (but Boria also participated in a seminar on cricket which I organised …. So, this guesswork should not be set in stone).

The personnel who participated in this seminar included Rohan Bastin, Riaz Hassan, Shyam Tekwani, Carl Thayer, Daya Somasundaram, Clive Williams.

[3] SEE ……. AND …………  ……AND …….

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